The Speed of a Rabbit: How Fast Do They Run?

Few sights in nature match the speed and grace of a rabbit running at full tilt. When startled, rabbits can explode in a blur of agile bounds and zigzags, reaching over 40 miles per hour at top speeds. From their powerful hindquarters to their streamlined physique, every part of a rabbit’s body evolves for speed, agility, and rapid evasion. Though rabbits’ remarkable running abilities decline through domestication, pet rabbits still delight owners with bursts of the swiftness inherent to their kind. This article explores why rabbits run so very fast, how they unleash their speed, and how their athleticism compares to other speedy animals across the world’s landscapes. Get ready for an electrifying look at the speed, skill, and survival of the quick rabbits.

Speed of a rabbit

Rabbits are fast, agile animals that can reach high speeds for short bursts. Their powerful hind legs allow them to sprint at speeds up to 45 miles per hour. However, rabbits cannot maintain these top speeds for very long before tiring. On average, domestic rabbits can run between 25-35 miles per hour. In the wild, cottontail rabbits average 15-20 mph, but can hit 30 mph for short stretches.

A rabbit's speed is an adaptation to help them evade predators. As prey animals, rabbits rely on their speed and agility to escape from foxes, coyotes, hawks, and other predators. When threatened, rabbits will kick hard with their powerful hind legs to quickly dart away. Their speed gives them a chance to reach the safety of their burrow or hiding place.

A rabbit's body is built for speed, with long lean legs and a compact, lightweight frame. Their hind legs are especially muscular to provide explosive power. A rabbit's bones are thin and fragile, but very light to reduce weight. Their fur coat is smooth and sleek to be aerodynamic. Rabbits also have extra large hearts and lungs compared to their body size to deliver oxygen while running.

While sprinting, rabbits use a bounding gait where they push off with their hind legs, stretch forward with their front legs, then pull their hind legs under to leap again. This lets them cover more ground with each bound while maintaining stability. Rabbits are also very agile, able to zigzag and change directions rapidly without losing momentum. This helps them evade predators during chases.

When fleeing, rabbits rely on quick reflexes and fast acceleration. They can go from 0 to 30 mph in just 2 seconds. Their powerful hind legs let them jump up to 3 feet high and 10 feet forward in a single bound. This explosive acceleration gives rabbits an edge over predators during pursuit. Once up to speed, rabbits may engage in zigs-zag evasive running, rapidly changing direction to break the predator's chase.

So while rabbits cannot maintain top speed very long, their quickness and agility allow them to effectively escape danger. Their speed and reflexes are key to their survival as small prey animals in the wild. Even domestic rabbits retain these instincts to sprint and evade at remarkable speeds.

Cottontail rabbits

The cottontail rabbit is one of the most common and widespread rabbit species in North America. There are several subspecies of cottontail, but the Eastern cottontail is most prevalent. It can be found throughout the eastern United States, Mexico, and Canada.

Cottontail rabbits are capable of short bursts of speed up to 18 miles per hour. This allows them to escape predators in the wild such as hawks, foxes, coyotes, snakes, and domestic dogs and cats. However, cottontails more frequently rely on hiding and stealth to evade danger rather than outrunning pursuers.

Cottontails have stocky bodies with shorter ears and legs than hares. While cottontails are quick, their physique gives them less speed and endurance compared to some other rabbit relatives. Instead, cottontails will freeze in place or hide in brush piles to avoid detection. If given enough cover, they may not flee at all when approached.

During evasion, cottontails use an extended serpentine pattern, zigzagging to break the predator's line of sight. They then quickly circle back to reach the safety of heavy brush or their burrow. The cottontail's brownish-gray fur provides camouflage in the dense vegetation they inhabit. Cottontails rarely stray far from cover, keeping escape routes close at hand.

While they may not be speed demons, cottontails are still quick enough to evade many predators. Hunters report it is difficult to flush a cottontail from cover. Once on the move, their rapid dodging and weaving can frustrate pursuers. Given their abundance near human development, many domestic cats and dogs have learned how challenging it can be to catch these common rabbits.

So while not the fastest rabbits, cottontails effectively use their speed, agility, hiding instincts and coloration to survive in the wild. Their ability to remain undetected and evade pursuit continues to help the species thrive across North America.


Hares are in the same family as rabbits, but are larger in size and have longer ears and legs. There are over 30 species of hares worldwide, and they are adapted for speed and endurance. The European hare is the fastest, reaching running speeds of 45 miles per hour.

Hares have several adaptations that allow them to run faster than rabbits:

  • Long, slim legs – The hare's hind legs are longer than their front legs, giving them a low center of gravity for speed and stability. Their long legs act as levers to propel them further with each bound.

  • Larger hearts and lungs – A hare's circulatory and respiratory system is expanded to deliver oxygen and remove carbon dioxide while sprinting. Their lungs and hearts are 1.5 times bigger than rabbits relative to their body size.

  • Muscular hindquarters – The hare's back legs are packed with fast-twitch muscle fibers for power. Up to 80% of their body mass is contained in their hind legs and pelvis for leaping ability.

  • Streamlined bodies – Hares have elongated heads and torsos to reduce drag while running. Their fur is also smoother and shorter than a rabbit's.

  • Longer ears – Hare's large ears help dissipate heat while running and can be used as rudders during high-speed turns.

Unlike rabbits, hares do not burrow but rely on their speed and endurance to flee predators. They have excellent stamina, capable of sustaining higher speeds for longer than cottontail rabbits. Over long distances, hares can average 35-40 mph for several miles. Some hares thump the ground to signal danger to their offspring before fleeing, reaching top speeds to escape threats.

The fastest recorded speed for a hare is 45 mph reached by a European hare. However, speeds of 40 mph are more typical for extended runs. Thanks to these adaptations, hares are some of the swiftest rabbits in the animal kingdom.

European Rabbits (domestic)

Domesticated European rabbits are the typical pet rabbit breed kept as companions. While domestic rabbits descend from the European rabbit, they have been bred in captivity for many generations. This has resulted in some differences from their wild cousins.

On average, domestic rabbits can sprint 25-35 miles per hour. However, some breeds have been selectively bred to favor coloration and temperament over speed. Larger commercial breeds like New Zealand Whites and Californians are slower, reaching top speeds around 25 mph.

Smaller breeds like Dutch, Himalayan, and Polish rabbits tend to be faster and more agile, capable of short 35 mph bursts. The European rabbit is medium-sized but still quick, getting up to 30 mph for evasion. Regardless of breed, domestic rabbits retain the ability for rapid acceleration and zigzag running when frightened.

Domestic rabbits are not as fast overall as wild European rabbits. Their speed has been reduced through the domestication process. Wild European rabbits routinely reach 40 mph sprints to avoid predators like foxes, lynx, wolves, and birds of prey. Domestic rabbits face fewer threats, so the trait has become less essential.

However, speed remains ingrained in rabbit DNA. Even indoor house rabbits will show remarkable turn of speed when excited. Most rabbits are naturally crepuscular, most active at dawn and dusk. So bursts of energy, including "zoomies", are common as rabbits burn off their instincts to run. This speed carries over when rabbits are allowed supervised playtime outdoors.

So while domestication has curbed the top-end speed in pet rabbits, their acceleration, agility, and endurance remain impressive. Careful observation of indoor rabbits at play shows they retain an innate love of running hard when given the chance.

Uphill Battle

While rabbits are capable of remarkable speed on open ground, their running ability is hampered when traveling uphill. Inclines require rabbits to exert more energy while reducing acceleration. Traction on softer ground also becomes more difficult. Despite their limitations going uphill, rabbits have some advantages compared to other animals their size.

Rabbits use their powerful hind legs to help propel them up slopes. However, they lack the larger hooves of hoofed mammals to gain traction on loose soil. Rabbits may have to take a zigzag path up hills to reduce the grade and maintain footing. Very steep hills often cannot be traversed.

Despite having smaller paws, rabbits benefit from having shorter legs than many mammals. The lower center of gravity helps prevent losing balance and slipping. Rabbits also utilize their strong back legs to aid with braking and stability when moving downhill.

Compared to rodents, rabbits have an easier time moving up and down slopes. Mice and rats have much shorter limbs in proportion to their bodies. While quick on flat ground, they struggle on even moderate inclines. Rabbits can more easily bound up gradual hills to escape danger or reach food sources.

When being pursued by predators, rabbits try to avoid running uphill. However, they may use downhill slopes to their advantage. Rabbits can safely descend much steeper slopes than foxes, coyotes, or other chasers. By zigzagging downhill, they can often elude predators giving chase.

So while rabbits lose speed and agility moving uphill, their physique gives them some advantage over smaller or larger animals on slopes. Given their habitat preferences, rabbits likely evolved their proportion of leg length to body size to adeptly traverse mixed terrain. Their athleticism continues to allow rabbits to thrive in many environments.

Rabbits vs. the fastest


The cheetah is the world's fastest land animal, capable of speeds up to 75 mph. Clearly no rabbit can outrun a cheetah at top speed. However, rabbits have some advantages that can still allow them to elude a pursuing cheetah:

  • Acceleration – Rabbits can go from 0 to 30 mph in just 2 seconds. Their explosive acceleration gives them a head start.

  • Agility – At top speed, cheetahs have poor maneuverability. Rabbits can rapidly change direction, zigzagging to escape.

  • Endurance – Cheetahs tire quickly after a high-speed chase. Rabbits can maintain brisk speeds for longer durations.

  • Hiding – Rabbits may utilize burrows or heavy cover to evade rather than flee from cheetahs.

So while cheetahs are undoubtedly faster, rabbits have adaptations of their own that can still allow them to escape predation in some scenarios. Their acceleration, agility, and hiding instincts give them a fighting chance against even the world's fastest predator.

Peregrine Falcon

In a straight race, rabbits cannot outrun peregrine falcons. At top speeds, peregrines can reach 200 mph during hunting dives. However, rabbits have tactics to avoid becoming prey:

  • Evasive running – Rabbits engage in zigzag, irregular escape paths at top speeds to evade diving talons.

  • Burrows – Rabbits may escape underground rather than flee above ground from peregrines.

  • Hiding – Rabbits can hide under brush during the day to avoid being spotted by falcons. They are most active at dawn/dusk when peregrines hunt less.

  • Short distances – Peregrines rely on momentum during dives. Close to the ground, they lose speed advantage. Rabbits need just a short sprint to reach cover.

So rabbits must rely on guile, hiding, and short bursts of speed to survive falcon attacks. By exploiting weaknesses in the peregrine's attack strategy, rabbits reduce their odds of becoming prey even when outpaced.

Quarter Horse

In a short sprint, a rabbit can outpace a quarter horse. At distances up to a quarter mile, rabbits can sustain 30+ mph speeds. Quarter horses require more time to accelerate and top out around 55 mph at top speeds. But over longer distances, a quarter horse's endurance and stronger stride provide an advantage to run down tiring rabbits. To avoid predators, rabbits know they must reach cover before tiring over long pursuits. Their best chance is utilizing terrain like burrows and brush to block pursuit before the horse's speed and stamina take over.

So while rabbits are quicker off the mark, horses have greater speed and endurance – but only if given enough time and distance to overtake the rabbit.

How do rabbits measure up to other fast animals?

To summarize how rabbits compare to other fleet-footed animals:

  • Cheetah – Far faster at top speed (75 mph vs 45 mph), but rabbits have better agility and acceleration.

  • Pronghorn Antelope – Similar top speeds to hares around 45 mph, but antelope have more endurance.

  • Jackrabbit – Jackrabbits are actually hares, capable of similar top speeds up to 45 mph in open desert terrain where they thrive.

  • Fox – Foxes chase rabbits but seldom catch healthy adults. Rabbits are faster in sprints under 400 feet. Foxes have better endurance at longer distances.

  • Squirrel – Squirrels are speedy rodents but max out around 15 mph. No match for a rabbit's burst speed.

  • Cat – Domestic cats can briefly reach 30 mph but lack endurance. Rabbits are faster and more agile.

  • Deer – White-tailed deer peak around 30 mph. Similar to rabbits but with less agility.

So rabbits hold their own against many speedy mammals pound-for-pound. Their explosive acceleration, maneuverability, and hiding abilities allow them to survive despite disadvantages of size and endurance against some faster pursuers.

Domestic Rabbits

While pet rabbits retain impressive speed and agility, their exercise needs are often misunderstood. Domestic rabbits do not require room to gallop continually like a dog. In fact, continually racing about would be stressful and unhealthy.

Rabbits are crepuscular, meaning most active at dawn and dusk. As prey animals, they naturally alternate between periods of intense activity and rest. In the wild, this allows them to graze, play, and breed while avoiding over-exertion that can attract predators.

While domestic rabbits need at least 2-3 hours of exercise daily, this does not mean ceaseless running. Houserabbits are best suited for frequent, short bouts of activity interspersed with quiet resting. A rabbit's play session may involve rapid zooming, hopping, jumping, and turning – then settling in to groom, sleep, or chew.

Domestic rabbits should have enough room indoors for at least a few hops, spins, kicks and bunny dances. But most of their activity indoors involves benign behaviors like grooming, foraging toys, or light play. Their highest energy exercises are reserved for supervised pen time outdoors.

Outdoor pens allow safe room for rabbits to indulge their natural speed and agility. With space to build momentum, rabbits may sprint, jump vertically, or twist in mid-air to burn energy. After 15-20 minutes of intense outdoor play, they are ready to relax.

While domestic rabbits retain impressive athleticism, their true exercise needs involve more moderate activity. Their enclosures focus on providing enrichment versus continual running. Short, focused play sessions in a pen or rabbit-proofed room allow them to stretch their legs without over-exertion. Rabbits naturally striking a balance between speed and rest.

Zooming Rabbits

Anyone watching a rabbit sprint across a room or yard for the first time is often shocked by their speed and agility. Rabbits appear to almost teleport, zooming by in a blur. How do rabbits generate such remarkable momentum in such little time from a standstill?

  • Powerful hind legs – A rabbit's strong back legs allow it to exert tremendous force into the ground with each leap.

  • Compact size – Their light, compact bodies are built to accelerate rapidly from rest.

  • Streamlined shape – A rabbit's smooth coat and rounded body provide little wind resistance when running.

  • Muscle efficiency – Fast-twitch muscles provide energy in bursts ideal for sprinting vs endurance.

  • Adapted lungs/heart – Enlarged cardio and respiratory capacity delivers oxygen when running.

  • Push off forelimbs – Rabbits transfer force from front paws to hind legs as they bound.

  • Springy spine – A flexible spine stretches and recoils with each powerful jump.

  • Grip toes – Long hind toes with grip pads provide traction when launching.

So with their strong legs and adapted physique, rabbits go from 0 to 30 mph with haste. Their rapid acceleration and turn of speed give them an edge when evading predators. Next time you see a rabbit zoom by, appreciate the remarkable biomechanics that allow it to bolt in a blur.

How much exercise do pet rabbits need?

To stay physically and mentally healthy, pet rabbits require 1-2 hours of exercise and playtime daily. This activity time prevents boredom and obesity. Rabbits allowed inadequate exercise are prone to destructive behavior and health problems.

Ideally, exercise is provided both indoors and outdoors. Rabbits need room indoors for at least a few hops and turns. But larger outdoor pens allow the most robust activity to climb, dig, sprint, and jump.

Free roaming indoors also provides exercise, but supervision is required to prevent injury and chewing. Baby gates allow sectioning off rabbit-proofed rooms. Enrichment toys stimulate activity and foraging instincts.

Rabbits are crepuscular, most active around dawn and dusk. Schedule the bulk of exercise and playtime during these peak activity periods. Sessions can be 15-30 minute intervals spaced throughout the day.

Monitor activity levels. Signs of adequate exercise include easy hopping and running, good muscle tone, and bright alertness. Indicators of excess energy include restlessness, chewing, digging, and aggressive behavior. Increase exercise if these behaviors persist when the rabbit is awake.

Veterinarians may recommend exercise limits for elderly, obese, or disabled rabbits. For healthy adults, aim for at least one hour


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